What's In Blue

Posted Thu 22 Feb 2024

The Situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian Question: Briefing and Consultations

This morning (22 February), the Security Council will convene for an open briefing, followed by closed consultations, on “The situation in the Middle East, including the Palestinian question”. Special Coordinator for the Middle East Peace Process Tor Wennesland and a civil society representative are expected to brief in the open chamber. Under-Secretary-General for Safety and Security Gilles Michaud is expected to brief during the closed consultations.

Following the 7 October 2023 large-scale attacks against Israel led by Hamas, the Palestinian armed group and de facto authority in Gaza, the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) have carried out massive airstrikes on the Gaza Strip. On 27 October 2023, the IDF also launched a ground operation initially focused on northern Gaza and later extended to most other areas of the Gaza Strip. Figures provided by Palestinian officials in Gaza cited by OCHA indicate that, as at 21 February, over 29,300 Palestinians had been killed. Entire neighbourhoods have been bombed to the ground, with the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East (UNRWA) estimating that about 1.7 million people have been internally displaced. UNICEF has recently estimated that at least 17,000 children in the Gaza Strip are “unaccompanied or separated”, corresponding to one percent of the overall displaced population. According to figures provided by Israeli authorities cited by OCHA, more than 1,200 Israelis and foreign nationals have been killed in Israel, the vast majority on 7 October 2023. As at 21 February, an estimated 134 Israelis and foreign nationals remain captive in Gaza.

At today’s meeting, Wennesland is expected to provide an update on the situation in the Gaza Strip, as well as on recent developments in the West Bank and the wider region. He may refer to his 19 February visit to Gaza, during which, according to an update provided by Spokesperson for the Secretary-General Stéphane Dujarric, Wennesland spoke with internally displaced families and held meetings with UN and non-governmental organisation (NGO) personnel working on the delivery of humanitarian assistance. During the visit, Wennesland also reviewed “operational and security challenges” concerning the entry and distribution of humanitarian aid, “including the breakdown of law and order”. Dujarric said that the “UN needs the tools to deliver on the ground, including the need for Israel to allow entry of items critical to UN operations and to improve deconfliction”.

Both the briefers and Council members are expected to express alarm at the deteriorating humanitarian situation in the Gaza Strip, with some members likely to refer to mounting levels of food insecurity. A 21 December 2023 Integrated Food Security Phase Classification (IPC) report emphasised the “catastrophic levels of acute food insecurity across the Gaza Strip”, with the risk of famine “increasing each day that the current situation of intense hostilities and restricted humanitarian access persists or worsens”. According to a 21 February OCHA update, “[c]atastrophic levels of acute food insecurity are reportedly intensifying across Gaza, with growing reports of families struggling to feed their children and a rising risk of hunger-induced deaths in northern Gaza”.

The civil society briefer may describe the dire situation in which humanitarian workers continue to operate in Gaza, including by highlighting attacks against humanitarian and health facilities, severe security risks, lack of necessary supplies, and movement restrictions.

Guyana, supported by Slovenia, requested that Michaud brief during the closed consultations about the safety and security of UN personnel operating in Gaza. In this regard, he might highlight some of the requirements listed in a 21 February statement by the principals of the Inter-Agency Standing Committee, the highest-level humanitarian coordination forum of the UN system, such as the need for a functioning humanitarian notification system that allows all humanitarian staff and supplies to move within Gaza and to deliver aid safely.

Council members are likely to express concern at the increasing possibility of a full-scale Israeli offensive targeting Rafah, Gaza’s southernmost city, and may express their rejection of any forcible displacement of Palestinians. Following Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s 9 February announcement that he had ordered the IDF and the Israeli security establishment to prepare a “combined plan” to evacuate civilians and to destroy Hamas’ forces in Rafah, key international interlocutors, including senior UN officials and humanitarian and human rights organisations, have warned against an Israeli offensive targeting Rafah. On 16 February, Secretary-General António Guterres said that the “situation in Gaza is an appalling indictment of the deadlock in global relations” and that the humanitarian operation there is “on life support”. He added that Rafah is at the core of aid operations in Gaza and that a full offensive on the city “would be devastating for the 1.5 million Palestinian civilians there who are already on the edge of survival”. Wennesland may echo some of these messages today.

At today’s meeting, many Council members and the briefers are expected to call for a ceasefire. On Tuesday (20 February), the Security Council voted on a draft resolution authored by Algeria which demanded an immediate humanitarian ceasefire. The draft text failed to be adopted owing to a veto by the US. All other members—except the UK, which abstained—voted in favour of the text. (For background, see our 19 February What’s in Blue story.) Today, members are also likely to call for the immediate and unconditional release of all hostages and reiterate their condemnations of the 7 October 2023 Hamas-led attacks.

Several members may also refer to the 26 January order issued by the International Court of Justice (ICJ) indicating provisional measures in South Africa’s proceedings against Israel concerning alleged violations in the Gaza Strip of obligations under the 1948 Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide (the ‘Genocide Convention’). In its order, the ICJ concluded that “at least some of the rights claimed by South Africa and for which it is seeking protection are plausible”, including “the right of the Palestinians in Gaza to be protected from acts of genocide”. Among other measures, the ICJ said that Israel must “take all measures within its power” in relation to Palestinians in Gaza to prevent the commission of acts within the scope of Article 2 of the Genocide Convention, including killing and causing serious bodily or mental harm. Today, Council members may stress the obligatory nature of the ICJ order and urge Israel to implement it in full. (For background, see our 31 January What’s in Blue story.)

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